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Let's consider the words of the song "I'll Never Fall In Love" by Burt Bacharach and Hal David:
"What do you get when you kiss a girl?
You get enough germs to catch pneumonia
After you do, she'll never phone ya
I'll never fall in love again"
OK, it's confession time. I am single and I've been a member of a couple of Internet dating sites in the past. And you know what I've found? There seems to be a hell of a lot of single scammers on the Internet, too!
By far the most interest I get in my profile comes from "women" – I use the term loosely because I can't be sure they actually are women – who are supposedly temporarily living in Ghana for various reasons. They seem to operate using the same instructional manual on how to spin a tale to their victim in order to win the victim's trust and eventually steal their money.
The ones that show an interest in me all claim to be about 30 years of age, Caucasian and very attractive. They even have photos to prove it! They all claim to live in cities such as New York, Manchester, Sydney, Auckland, etc. And they all say that they are temporarily in Ghana for various reasons – university study being the most common, but also to support their poor single parent, or even working for a charity. They are prepared to spend weeks, even months, chatting to their victim and offering them their undying love. They all claim that they will be leaving Ghana soon and want to be by their victim's side. They try to convince their victim to send money to them so that they can buy a plane ticket to be with their "love". Or they may ask their "love" to send them some money to pay a debt. Another popular ruse is to make an urgent call in a panic, claiming that their parent has suddenly become seriously ill and needs a life saving operation. Of course, they cannot afford the cost of the operation themselves and need their victim to send money urgently to save their dear old Mother or Father's life. Almost always, they will ask the victim to send the money via a Western Union transfer, which they can receive at their end without being traced later on.
Interestingly, until about a year or so ago, they all claimed to live in Nigeria, with the exact same stories. Then, all of a sudden they moved to Ghana! I don't know why this happened.
The name of the game, as far as the scammer is concerned, is to gain the victim's trust and then scam them out of as much money as possible. And these guys are aiming to scam thousands of dollars out of each victim. Interestingly, it seems that women are targeted more than men, with a split of about 60/40 percent. Maybe because women might be seen to be more romantic and susceptible to falling for someone who supposedly loves them with all their heart.
Recently I have seen another method the bad guys use to take advantage of people looking for love (or lust) online. They prey on the night owls, who are up late with nothing better to do than search for someone online. They engage in conversation for a while, and show that they are very keen to take things further, but then ask their victim to go to a website and vote for them on the site. Now, I haven't gone to any of these sites, but I have a very strong suspicion that the reason they want someone to go to the website is so that the website can infect the victim's computer with malware, simply by visiting it.
And this is a very big business. Many thousands of people have been scammed, and continue to be scammed in this manner. If you would like to learn more about it, or get some idea of the amount of scamming going on, have a look at www.romancescam.com. There you will get some idea of how these bad guys operate and what damage they have done in the past (and continue to do).
Once again, it comes back to the old saying regarding the Internet: "If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is". And this includes romance. I'm not saying you can't find love on the Internet, but be very wary and DON'T send any money to anyone whose identity you cannot verify with certainty. Or clink on any links that someone wants you to, unless you are sure it is legitimate.
"What do you get when you fall in love?
Nothing but pain, lies and sorrow
So for at least, until tomorrow
I'll never fall in love again"
Senior Cybercrime Research Analyst
Author ESET Research, ESET